Friday, 29 June 2018

Interplanetary Adventures! ~ A Review of The Best of Planet Stories


I realize I've been talking a lot about pulp recently, and it's for very good reason. The pulp revolution is in full swing, traditional publishing is capsizing, and the wild west of indie publishing is beginning to organize itself into a brand new ecosystem. But one thing not always covered is short stories and their place in this new world. That is partially because they have been made irrelevant by gatekeepers and taste-makers since the middle of the 20th century, and because the markets which traditionally housed them, magazines, had died by the 1950s and were rotting corpses by the end of the century.

But the stories aren't dead themselves.

Planet Stories is a magazine with an interesting history that stands out even more in a post-pulp revolution world. Coming in at the exact moment the short fiction market had swung away from the majority of readers, 1939, and ending exactly when the market had been put in its grave, 1955, Planet Stories offers a good view as to what the pulp market looked like . . . prior to 1940.

You see, pulp stories were once written to entertain and enliven the reader. In the Golden Age of pulps (1919-1939) you had larger than life heroes and villains, big ideas, epic scope, danger, romance, awe, and incredible sights. By 1940, a perfect storm had blown in and ended up hobbling the market. This sent it on a downward trend that ended with the market collapse in the mid-1950s. Planet Stories (along with a few others like Startling Stories) existed almost outside of this purely manufactured change, living in the Silver Age of pulps (1940-1956) but acting as if the older era had never died. As you can imagine, this led to some controversy among the respectable types that thought the perfect pristine future was only one step away.

One of the writers that defined the era, and who is considered one of the greatest in the field, Leigh Brackett, cobbled together an anthology for Ballantine Books in 1974, nearly two decades since Planet Stories ceased operating, signalling the end of pulp. This was to be the first in a series but alas no more were made after the initial outing. And that is a true shame.

In her introduction, she states exactly what most of us had figured out from learning about the era.

"It was fashionable for awhile, among certain segments of the science fiction fandom, to hate Planet Stories. They hated the magazine because it was not Astounding Stories, a view which I found ridiculous at the time, and still do."

For context, at the end of 1937, John Campbell succeeded Orlin Tremaine as editor at Astounding Stories, one of the more popular pulp magazines. By 1940 he had changed the magazine's name, flushed fantasy from its pages, and began focusing on the small scope Big Men with Screwdrivers trope. This didn't happen overnight, but it was still noticeable. By 1940, everything the magazine was had been changed and subverted, the old style effectively flushed out. And these newer fans of this Campbell style didn't like that a magazine existed to remind them of their roots.

She continues:

"Of course Planet wasn't Astounding; it never pretended to be Astounding, and that was a mercy for a lot of us who would have starved to death if John W. Campbell Jr. had been the sole and only market for our wares. Apart from everything else, there wasn't room for all of us in that one magazine. And we who wrote for Planet tended to be more interested in wonders than we were in differential calculus, or the theory and practice of the hydraulic ram, even if we knew about such things."

This introduction is invaluable for anyone interested in pulp, and were I to write more I would transcribe the entire thing. Nonetheless, the sum of it is that adventure fiction is the lifeblood of the soul. No matter how much the bow-tied elite or snarky nihilists try, they cannot squelch that love of the unknown an wondrous from the human race. We exist for more and we hunger for tastes beyond the thin gruel of the literary types.

Even now, years after Cambellian science fiction has faded from relevance to the common reader, the most popular stories in the world remain those of tall tales, miracles, the unexplained, and impossible events. Planet Stories was not behind the times, or ahead of them, it was exactly where it needed to be to supply the audience with those base needs. One of the few, at the time.

This introductory tone sets the stage for the rest of the anthology to follow. Seven stories, all picked from the decade and a half of Planet's existence follow in a simple 200 page paperback. They aren't all what you might expect, either! Now why don't we just dive into this?

Opening this collection is the famous Lorelai of the Red Mist by Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury, the one and only collaboration between these two famous authors. This is very much a Burroughs-style adventure, and one for the books. A man dies and finds himself transferred to a new body, a different man on Venus who has apparently gone insane. Now he must quickly understand this war he's been thrown into or die a second, more permanent death. Here you get action, action, and more action. The only strange part of this tale is the usage of the names "Conan" and "Crom" though not in the way you might think. Even the author admits they are distracting and would change them if she could. Otherwise this is an action packed adventure that is by far the longest story here and the perfect opener.

We then come to The Star-Mouse by Frederic Brown, a unique a comical story about a small lab mouse named Mitkey Mouse who is trapped on an asteroid with tiny aliens after being sent there by an insane scientist who talks to mice. It's very difficult to do comedy in genre fiction these days that isn't subversive fourth wall breaking, but this story works because the situation is treated dead seriously despite how lighthearted it is. It got a few laughs out of me. Unfortunately, it also isn't very exciting and ends before anything major happens. A decent story, but not one of the best. Nonetheless, it does show the range in stories Planet could have.

Following on from that is Return of a Legend by Raymond Z. Gallun a story about wilderness exploration... on Mars! A boy and his father disappear and a few members of the Earth outpost go to find him. It is otherwise typical of the exploration story type. There's a bit here about what it means to be a martian, but it's mainly an adventure story about exploring a world that is more or less dead. Not my favorite included here, but a solid read.

Quest of Thig by Basil Wells is the fourth story in this collection. Thig is an alien come to Earth to find a human to capture and study to prepare to take over the planet. He succeeds and becomes a man named Terry. He soon learns what it means to be human. If I said this came across as a 1934 story with that premise and less like a 1942 (the year it came out) story then it should tell you the type of theme the tale has and what it builds towards. Nonetheless, it might have been my second favorite in this collection.

Then we come to the most popular story in the collection, and one of my favorites, The Rocketeers Have Shaggy Ears by Keith Bennett. A pre-Starship Troopers Military SF story. Only this is far more exciting than anything Heinlein wrote. A group of Rocketeers become stranded in the jungle of Venus and have to make their way back to base while dodging the alien environment and mysterious animals and beasts waiting in the wings to devour them whole. he entire group faces odds like they've never seen with only their discipline to hold them in check. This story is fast-paced, action-packed, and teeters on the knife's edge of hope and despair throughout. For a slight spoiler, the ending is probably not one you would see nowadays-- or probably at the time.

I always wondered why Ross Rocklynne wasn't a bigger name. Most of his material has never been re-released, and his story in this collection is no different. The Diversifal is a fascinating story filled with action, mystery, and a bit of horror. This one wouldn't have been out of place in Weird Tales, and it's hard to imagine why I've never heard anyone mention it before. A being from the future visits the protagonist and warns him of a dire future for the human race unless he can ruin his own life. This gets rather dark, but never cloyingly so. But it is fascinating. Needless to say, after this unique tale I'm going to be eagerly picking up anything of his I can find. This is my favorite story in the collection.

The last tale here is by the ever-fascinating Poul Anderson with one of his classic entries in Planet Stories called Duel on Syrtis. On Mars, a hunter goes after his prey: a martian! This is a back and forth action story between a hunter and his quarry which ends with quite a surprise. Both characters are fleshed out with obvious motivations and drives, and it tough to say who will win until the final page. Poul Anderson is known for his incredible variety and growth as an author over his long career, but his Planet Stories work were pure pulp from back to front. It's easy to see why this was chosen to end the anthology. To say why might actually spoil the ending, though.

Seven stories, all with very different styles and takes on action tales, and writers that have become almost completely forgotten today. Even this anthology is almost forgotten!

Nonetheless, if you are looking for more pulp to read and just can't decide on a book to pick up, this is what you are looking for. And maybe it'll convince you to look up more from these authors, or the magazine in question.

You could do a lot worse, especially for material from the time period. Planet Stories was an interesting experiment, and I'm glad we had it.

Highly recommended.


My own pulp work is available on amazon. It's a bit too long to have run in Planet Stories, but I'd like to think it would slide in just fine among many of the tales in its pages. It's really more of Weird Tales book, though.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Light & Dark Novels


This is a bit of an epilogue to the recent series of posts. I've been thinking about this post Ben Cheah posted on Steemit about the difference between old pulp novels and current Japanese light novels. It turns out there is quite a bit of difference.This also pair with a post on Twitter from a user (@deffik_) that goes into more detail on how current light novels are being made in Japan.

For those that don't know, Light Novels are short punchy books usually no longer than an old pulp novel. They are focused on action, they blend genres, and they are massively popular. However, despite the similarities to the old pulp novels, there are quite a few differences. And those differences are quite large.

So let me sum up my thoughts on this here.

Several authors I have followed on social media including those such as JimFear138, Rawle Nyanzi, and Mr. Cheah himself have all come to the conclusion that light novels (or at least the modern ones they've read) are simply not well written at all. Ever since the Pulp Revolution started, this has been a common topic rising up again and again. What are these books missing that they simply don't hit the mark? After all, they appear to give what so many of us what we were asking for.

As these men are highly into the Pulp Revolution, and also anime and manga fans at that, one might wonder exactly what they're talking about. After all, doesn't a significant chunk of both consist of adaptions from these light novel stories? They're short books, written fast and without any notion of genre boundaries, and they contain constant motion. Surely this should be what those in the Pulp Revolution asked for.

Well, read the Steemit post above and come back here. Did you read that prose? It was all telling and no showing. It reads like the blurb on the back of a book. There's no character or imagination. It's all surface, no depth. The words and grammar have no creativity to them, and I don't mean in a workshop sense. It reads like fiction by an assembly line. And it might actually be.

Of course, there's a very good possibility the translation is to blame. There have been many bad translations that suck the air out of books before. However, I don't believe that's the case here. First is that I've read good books in this style before (the first Vampire Hunter D book is full of character and life) and second of the news coming out of Japan from the Twitter post mentioned above. The following images are from him.



It looks like the assembly line assumption isn't that far off the mark. The industry is just throwing anything out there to see what sticks. Quality control is a myth.

What you have here is the fact that the market is so overstuffed with trash that no one actually pays attention to the prose or anything below the surface level. It's just cranked out to sell because no one has any incentive to get better from merely writing words down. Why bother with learning to write when you'll make money simply from having an Isekai, an over long title, and a harem of girls in the story? This is a long way from the days of Crusher Joe and Vampire Hunter D when you couldn't rely on trends to keep you afloat. They had to actually try.

Where the West has the problem of getting anybody to buy anything, the East has the problem that anybody will buy anything.

In other words, Japan has the complete opposite problem we do. We have writer workshops and seminars focused on purpling prose until it hemorrhages, but no focus on stories that excite or lift up the reader to make them happy enough to pick up the next book. In Japan they have writers who don't even need to learn to write because people will buy it for the tropes anyway. These are two different ends of the problem. There's no balance here, and that's the real issue.

Prose is important and so is readability. But they work together. You write a sentence to engage the reader into the action, not to show off. That includes flow and the proper nouns, adjectives, and verbs to get them breezing through to the next plot point. You don't want a reader to stop in the middle of an action scene because of a poorly worded phrase or have them slumber through a conversation because the character's are merely giving an info dump to the reader. You want it to roll off the page and have enough creativity that it lifts the reader into your world. Both plot and prose are needed to achieve this.

And who achieved this synthesis better than anybody?

That's right! The pulps.

In fact, Mr. Cheah's post is about exactly that. While we can't get hung up on prose like those in Traditional Publishing do to the expense of their audience, we also can't just throw words into a junk-heap resembling a novel and expect people to buy it.

My question in this is how this ended up happening, and why? Is it because of a lack of Mutation or Death that Western genre writers sank into after being infiltrated by nihilists and moral cultists? Why were the Japanese not chased from reading like those in the West were? Their standards might have lowered, but they still pick up books. That's more that one can say about today's market. So what is the difference?

To be honest, this looks like what would have happened if Weird Menace didn't die with magazines and continued on to the mainstream to become the dominant form. Instead of pointless slogs through crybaby snark land we would have fast action packed books . . . that don't ultimately have anything to them at all. That is what Weird Menace was. These stories were just exploitative violence and sex created to titillate, which is exactly what modern light novels are meant to do.

For those who don't know, Weird Menace was a subgenre in the pulps that focused on merging the detective story with weird tales, but not in the way you might hope. There's an eerie menace that breaks the norm like in weird tales but it is always explained away at the end as something completely natural and scientific by the end. There are hard bitten protagonists like in detective stories, but they rarely have much in the way of integrity or morals. What Weird Menace did was stripe the wonder and morality out of both styles to leave the hollow shell of excitement and action behind. And for the longest time the stands were flooded with those gory and sex-filled covers. If you want to know why all the classic pulp writers are tarred as some of the worst people to ever pick up a pen even today it is because when the average person thinks "pulp" they think of Weird Menace, which none of the best writers engaged in.

This is what the writing landscape in Japan is basically like now. I can't decide if this is worse than what we have here, but traditional publishing is dying and we still have movements like the PulpRev to help set us straight. I'm not sure if Japan has anything like that there or if they're really interested in changing the norm. I do, however, feel sorry for the better writers who get overshadowed simply because they don't want to write another story about a big breasted fantasy video game mage inexplicably attracted to a hapless nerd from Japan. I do hope they have a way to do what they want and reach success, but it is a shame the market is as flooded as it is.

So, yes, modern light novels are not very good, and are not what the standard should be, but neither should the dark and depressing dirges that consist of lumpy and awkward works like Chuck Wendig Star Wars books or whatever overwrought claptrap is winning the Hugo Award this year. We have a middle ground to hit, and it is where the revolution is destined to travel.

Let's just be sure not to get lost along the way. The road ahead has many curves.


If you want to see how a light novel should act, my book is much closer to it. It is fast, to the point, and with plenty to keep you entertained. There is more going on under the surface, too. And I can guarantee that the prose does not read like a first draft! That's the influence of real pulp for you.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Poisonous Heroism and the Death of Fantasy



I didn't expect this to be a series of posts, but sometimes things get out of hand. I recently dealt with a few things that need to be cobbled together into one more of these to sort it out. This will be my last post on this subject of devolved storytelling (at least for the foreseeable future), however, I do have one more subject to talk about in addition to the destruction of mediums and forms.

That would be the stories themselves, in particular the muddying of good and evil. Anyone who has paid attention will quickly realize what this is referring to. There are no heroes left in mainstream entertainment.

Okay, that's an exaggeration, there are a few heroes out there holding on to their dignity, but all are on the precipices of falling into the same bin as the action movie star, the pulp hero, the lone detective, and superhero. They are all very close to forgotten by the mainstream, and what remains out there is a pale imitation of what they were at their peak.

For an example, E3 2018 (a gaming expo) announced a new game by the creators of Life is Strange (a decidedly un-heroic game) about a boy who deals with his mother's death and empty life by pretending to be a superhero to ignore his pain and problems. This is decidedly different from something like Calvin & Hobbes with the Spaceman Spiff character as that is used as a joke to compare Calvin's imagination to his real life--and doesn't undercut either to do it. The superpowers are intentionally showed to be cheap and lousy to constantly remind the audience that this isn't real . . . even though this is a video game.

I shouldn't have to say how silly that is.

In a video game, you are supposed to be taken to imaginary places to engage in gameplay that grips your senses and ingenuity. Because of this gaming has taken us into 80s action movie settings, cyberpunk dystopias, deep an dangerous jungles, and distant planets where mechs roam free. It even allows us to do things like become sport stars or expert soldiers which are much more down to earth than becoming a holy warrior on a desert planet. What video games are is a way to play pretend and inspire gamers to greater heights and places. It's pure escapism with an interactive component.

What this game does is let you know heroes not only aren't real but are a coping mechanism to get you through the empty pointlessness that is life. Nothing matters, but we can pretend it does. In a medium where you can do anything, you are instead relegated to a pathetic loser not unlike the one from the Richard Donner stinker Radio Flyer about a boy who imagines abuse away in a red wagon before riding off and never being seen again. Charming.

And it would have been easy to make this game have meaning.

The boy's mother dies, and he's down and trying to figure out a way through it. Then he searches the basement which holds a strange artifact that gives him superpowers not unlike the fake ones in the game. What's worse is that aliens/the government are notified due to a strange frequency the artifact gives off after being activated. It turns out his mother was an alien herself and died due to Earth's atmosphere and was hiding this artifact from those that would harm innocents. Now he must figure out how to use these powers to rise above himself and his sadness to become what he needs to be for those around him and to carry on his mother's task at the same time.

There you go, I made the story have an actual point in a few sentences. Instead of this the story is going to climax at a point where the kid has a break down when he realizes his powers don't work and has a big confrontation with his father at the end. They'll hug and tell each other they'll get through this and he'll probably go back to pretending because that's all he's got. The end. Why does this need to be a video game? This is closer to Bridge to Terabithia in that it's more focused on teaching "reality" than it is in entertaining the audience which is what the Game part in Video Game should be focused on.

The rest of E3 had similarly pointless narratives including many with Strong Women Characters who have no personality other than being perturbed and downtrodden with flat personalities. They're all about the women discovering themselves as everything in the world struggles to kill them with nothing unique to set them apart except bad hair styles. They're all overly serious without any semblance of fun or hope in them. And when I think video games I think escapist fun. These don't fit the bill.

It's no wonder audiences are tiring of the AAA industry with hardware sales far higher than software (Nintendo aside who still remembers there are other tones other than piss-yellow filters and hopelessness) even with a new console generation looming in the distance. I'm certainly not looking forward to buying another console if this is all we are going to get from now on. The lack of joy is depressing.

But other mediums have a similar problem.

Think of the popularity of a franchise like George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones, a nihilistic dirge where nothing matters and the ending is going to be about the genius psychopath who successfully stabs the most horrible people in the back the best to get his monetary prize and worthless title. The worst person wins at the end and being good is pointless. And this is the model modern fantasy writers are attempting to ape. Because Fantasy now translates to Realistic for some who have a much different dictionary than I do.

This attitude is everywhere in entertainment. There's been a slow poisoning of heroism that has left us with nothing but selfish anti-heroes who never grow and exist only to cause chaos and misery for others. And we are expected to love them because they are "realistic" by insinuating that the world being pointless and without magic or hope is realistic. Again, even were that true, what does that have to do with fantasy?

We all know where this attitude came from. It's been years of an entertainment industry more interested in flipping tables instead of putting anything on them. It's been about mocking heroes and hope and boosting "realism" and despair in its place. The turned tables are all cracked and breaking, and have nothing on them, but they keep getting flipped regardless despite the lack of anything new. Creators have been trained to not create, only to focus on the aesthetics and ape the same subversives that led them into this rut. Fantasy is sunlight to these vampires, which leads them to live only in the dark.

It is much like genres and how they have been utterly divorced from their original purpose of guiding the audience toward the sort of experience they want into instead outright segregating stories based on surface features like if someone uses a wand or a hydraulic wrench to solve a problem. Why does aesthetic matter more than storytelling style? Just as short stories were ripped from their place as the form where inventive fiction usually spawned and became a place for slow, depressing, and meandering pieces that exist only to preached warmed over politics from the 1960s from big publishing approved writers workshops. Everything has to be beaten down and quarantined in tiny boxes. How does this fit with a form meant for wild and free new ideas to grow and inspire others?

This all connects together.

A lot is said of previous decades, but they were never as hopeless and empty as the stories we tell now are. The 80s might have been overly optimistic or over the top, but always had hope to contrast the darker stories. The 90s were characterless, but they still had stories about heroes who fought for things and thought there was more worth saving than their own skin. Now there is no hope, there are no heroes, and there is no chance to imagine anything better than the slop being fed. And what is there now is intensely shallow.

To illustrate that last point, I'll end this off with one anecdote.

Recently someone on social media was so offended by a joke I made that they had to relentlessly insult me while guessing at why they thought I made the insult. Yes, yes, this is social media, but hear me out first. It ties in.

A new comic book was announced and the publisher used the term "You asked for it" to describe the product, so I answered with a picture of the Deus Ex meme of "I never asked for this." which led a few hardcore fans of the low selling character (whose last book was canceled for low sales) and several humorless comic book writers (including those on the book) to join in with them. This would have been fine enough, but what fascinated me was the reason these people thought I made the joke. You see, the first thing that popped into this fanatic's head was that I was mad that this book existed (I didn't care, and said as much) and that I "had enough books for me" while he listed books I don't actually read to tell me what "my" books supposedly were, and that he "knew my type" and why I wasn't interested in this book. This went on for a good half hour as the fan frothed and raged over a simple meme in an attempt to make me look like a monster.

All this over a silly picture.

Is this who heroes are written for now? Humorless and hateful obsessives who can't think in terms other than genitalia and skin color as to how people relate to heroes? Looking at what the industry puts out, and what the low selling writers continue to churn out, it definitely appears to be the case. Heroism has gone from being the universal traits of a Captain America that anyone can admire and attach themselves to into a mix and match game of surface traits to segregate shrinking audiences into. Is it any wonder comic sales are falling with attitudes like this? There's no Fantasy or imagination here.

I don't think the mainstream is going to change in the near future. They are too set in their ways and too scared of any new idea that comes from outside their shrinking and ever-narrowing view of the world. If a revolution comes it will have to be from the outside by those vilified by the same "creative" types who chain themselves to rule books and corporate approved writing workshops. We will have to be the ones to dig up what has been left buried and forgotten and make our case to the public separate from those who wear heroism and fantasy as a skin suit.

It's a different sort of revolution, but not one any less worth having. Shake some evil and get back to what makes things great again. We need heroes, we need fantasy, and we need hope. We need a reason to keep the lights on.

In a world with infinite possibilities where hope falls like rain, anything can happen. So don't lose your way. Things are about to change in a big way.


I wrote my own book about heroes in fantastic world. If you like action, romance and fun, then Grey Cat Blues is for you! Check it out below.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Assisted Suicide of Short Stories


My second violent post in a row. I apologize, but there is something to this, I swear.

From a chart passed around by author Jon Del Arroz comes this list showing the sales of different SF subgenres. To no one's surprise, the ones focused on action and adventure are at the top of the chart. In addition to some weird listings ("Alternate History" and "Alternative History" are two different categories) this isn't all that surprising to anyone who pays attention to what mainstream people like. I'm sure if you've read this blog or similar ones you know all of this.

The worst part of this chart is how low short stories are. Despite being cut up into three categories (again, for some reason) short stories are at the rock bottom of the list and have been for a very long time. Think about it. When was the last time a big anthology came out or when have you heard of a short story that was just so amazing that you just had to run out and buy it? When was the last time you saw a big advertising campaign for an anthology? When was the last time any of the traditional publishing houses put out an anthology that set the world on fire? Unless you're the age of a Baby Boomer, you've never lived in this world. Short stories are irrelevant and dead.

But they weren't always so.

The pulp magazines, and even older sources, ran novels as serials alongside smaller pieces from short stories to novellas to novelettes. These short stories were the main form of entertainment and lasted just as long as the pulps did, up until the mid-50s before the industry imploded. Then they vanished, reserved for transgressive anthologies the public ignored and college classes focused on "subverting audience expectations" with unimaginative "clever" stories like The Lottery. Almost overnight short stories went from small slices of wonder and imagination to having to be based on twists and subversion on audience expectation to be worth reading. And they never recovered from that.

Just take a look at the recent Hugo awards for best short story. They are uniformly embarrassing when compared to anything from Weird Tales, The Argosy, or Planet Stories, and no one in the industry can puzzle out why the mainstream audience just doesn't want to read them. What do you expect when Space Raptor Butt Invasion was a nominee? That is how little anyone cared for the short fiction categories to even bother voting in them. Heck, the Dragon Award doesn't even have a short fiction category, which shows how little larger audiences know or care about the form.

The short story is dead.

But not everyone got the memo. I have reviewed on this very blog several magazines specializing in short fiction that are attempting to bring it back in a big way. Off the top of my head there's Cirsova, Red Sun Magazine, and StoryHack, as well as Superversive Press with their Astounding Frontiers and Planetary Anthology series. There is also a magazine called Broadswords and Blasters which attempt to standout by offering a modern bent to their pulp stories in contrast to the classic ideals of the former magazines. New sources of short fiction are here and they are asking attention.

Speaking of the latter magazine, they recently put up a post detailing what they wanted from their submissions, and what they ended up getting instead. This would go a long way to describing where the field is right now and why it isn't make the splash it should be. The majority of writers simply don't know what the majority of the audience wants, and they were misled about it from their writing teachers and industry professionals.

The relevant part is quoted here:

We have guidelines on our website. They detail, in what we hope is clear and concise language, what we are looking for. They can be broken down in two parts. The first is the genres we are looking for:
  • sword and sorcery;
  • westerns (Weird or otherwise);
  • horror (Cosmic, Southern Gothic, visceral, and psychological);
  • detective tales;
  • two-fisted action;
  • retro science fiction
If you can squint real hard and fit your story into one of those buckets, yeah, we’ll read it and give it due consideration. Mash-ups of the above are also great[2].
So far so good. These styles were the most popular in the pulps back in the day when short stories were king. Of course any magazine seeking to revive the form would use these as a base. This all makes perfect sense.

But the post goes on to detail what submissions they are actually receiving:

Here’s what we see too much of:
  1. Epic or high fantasy.
  2. Fantasy that is a reskin of a Dungeons and Dragons game.
  3. Engineering science-fiction where the hero can solve the problem with a calculator and wrench[3].
  4. Stories where talking about the problem somehow solves the problem.
  5. Slice of life stories that would fit better in a literary magazine. No speculative gloss at all which made both editors scratch their heads and ask “Why did they send this to us?”
  6. Urban fantasy.
  7. Allegories (religious or otherwise) where a solid chunk of the story relies on telling some sort of moral.

You can read the rest here.

And this is where we are. The first six categories were the bread and butter of pulps, and the most popular type of short story when the form was at its popularity peak. These were the most common type of tales at the time, and what went on to influence just about every form of pop culture. This should be common sense.

So why were the majority of the submissions they received in the exact opposite camp? Why were they focused on styles that either don't work in short form or were never all that popular types of fiction in the first place? Should it not have been the other way around?

Well, no. As already established, the short story form has been utterly gutted of its original purpose and tone by our betters. Let us go through each of the seven incorrect story types they were sent in.


1. Epic or High Fantasy

This form is almost exclusively a form of Tolkien worship, which is antithetical to the short story form. Tolkien was an excellent author, but he didn't write for pulp magazines nor was brevity his strong point. His most famous work is a three-volume tome, for crying out loud. High Fantasy is heavy on the details and short fiction is reliant on smaller detail and sharper action. It does not fit the short story form, and you would be hard pressed to find an Epic Fantasy short story regarded as a classic. But because this is the only form of acceptable Modern Fantasy (aside from Urban, or whatever Magical Realism is supposed to be) most writers will use this as a template. Read some Lord Dunsany or Robert E. Howard. Short Fantasy fiction is not what you think it is.


2. D&D Fantasy

This is a whole other problem in the Fantasy genre that really needs solving. There are those who think Fantasy is whatever can be done in Dungeons & Dragons and nothing else. A lot of this comes from their only real Fantasy exposure being Tolkien, his followers, or writers of Dragonlance and other such books. While there is nothing technically wrong with any of that, it does limit the scope of inspiration when nothing older than that has even remained in print and so many of our betters have lied about the quality of the stories. This is why the rediscovery of Appendix N was so important. Instead of transcribing your D&D game to a story, why not look at the inspiration of D&D and start there instead? You're guaranteed to find something better and more original.


3. Big Men with Screwdrivers

And this is where I get blacklisted. Mainstream audiences don't want Campbell's Science Fiction and there's a good argument to be made that they never did in the first place. Even if they did, there are markets for this sort of thing. Castalia House is looking for this and Superversive even welcome it, and I recommend them all the time for writers despite not caring for this style of story. Pulp magazines, however, were not built off the back of Campbell's social experiment. They go back further than that to a form of hot blooded action and romance that are designed to grip any reader with a pulse. Which is why it's important to regress further to see what exactly you're missing here that this is the only style of short fiction you can imagine. Here's a hint: Astounding Stories had an editor before Campbell. Start there.


4. Low-T Fiction

Short fiction is an adrenaline rush. It's made for people to jump in and out between other tasks they might be performing. This means they want action and problems getting solved quickly--they want to feel like something is being accomplished. If you have a story where the problem is simply talked away then the problem could not have been very serious to start with. Talking problems away is for misunderstandings, not life-ending threats. These stakes are not high enough to engage a reader. Nobody wants to read about a trip to the HR department or your son's guidance counselor. Pump up the tension and realize why people read short fiction to begin with.


5. Comfort Food Fiction

There must be some correlation between the more hedonistic and nihilistic a culture is the more it enjoys stories about people doing nothing at all and where nothing happens. Whether in anime or the written word there are writers that think audiences want to read about characters who do nothing, accomplish nothing, and at the end of the day mean nothing. But there aren't, at least not in any real large number. This audience is a small sliver. So stop foisting this style on the greater population. They want a salad, a steak, or a beer, and maybe a combination of all the above. They don't want a saltine. They don't want the same thing they can get by recounting their own daily activities. This is fantasy! Think bigger.


6. Urban Fantasy

The problem with Urban Fantasy is its kitchen sink approach to everything. You have to have werewolves and vampires and fairies and magic and you have to explain why they're all there and how they interact in a world where all of them being real makes no sense to the common man. This cannot be condensed into a small word count without resorting to inside baseball or confusing the audience. And even if it can be, they are mostly detective stories with fairy creatures. They're not that exciting a setting for a shorter piece. But this one is speculation and taste on my part. Urban Fantasy is popular in long form, but I have never seen a shorter piece that has been trotted out by fans to show how well the genre works in said arena. The world also doesn't need two Harry Dresdens. Chicago deserves some mercy.


7. Message Fiction

And this is the big one. How many children have had it beaten into their heads that short stories are for delivering important messages that mean things. Almost all of this comes from what is taught in schools and how they beat any love of reading out of their students. It's no wonder the majority of the population never touches a book after graduation when they are given propaganda as the baseline and told this is what constitutes proper reading. There's nothing saying Le Morte D'Arthur or an old Ray Cummings story can't be used to teach form other than a badly made program that is not interested in instilling a love of wonder or imagination, but on preaching messages. That was a tangent, but it's also what you get from a worthless school system whose idea of genre fiction is The Giver and then wonders why kids don't want to pick up books in their spare time. Then there is assigned material like The Lottery which is based on a twist to make you "think" and wish you never had to read anything ever again. So many people think this is what a short story is supposed to be.


And that is mainly the problem in this whole saga. Short stories were once the ideal form of quick entertainment and should be more popular than ever in this age of instant gratification. But they're not, and that's because of the bad ideas that have been planted in our heads as to what they're supposed to be. The field has been utterly wrecked and, short of a revolution, it doesn't look as if there's any way out.

But there is. As already stated, there are many magazines and individuals dedicating themselves to fixing this problem, and working overtime to accomplish this task. Maybe in a few years Short Stories and Anthologies will be up there with novels where it belongs, but at least that doesn't mean the rest of us will sit by and let it continue to fall so far.

So keep an eye out on those of us putting our work out there whether on blogs, services like Steemit, amazon, or newer magazines. I can't promise every piece will be a home-run, but it can at least get us to first base. And that's a good place to start when we've only been striking out.

Let's bring the form from its grave and allow it the life it deserves.


If you want a sample of my short story work you can find one for free by signing up to my newsletter (or buy the same story for a dollar here), or find others in anthologies at amazon here and here. I should have more info on future stories soon enough, I promise!

As for longer pieces, I have my action adventure novel that you might have missed out on. Hungry for the days where writing was shorter and to the point and there was plenty of red blooded thrills to go around? This is what you've been waiting for.